Endangered archives blog

12 posts categorized "Writing"

18 January 2016

Deciphering Wolof Ajami Texts

Our final blog to coincide with the British Library's exhibition on West Africa is by Dr Fallou Ngom, grant holder for EAP334, a project that digitised Wolof Ajami manuscripts from Senegal. Dr Ngom gives a fascinating and detailed explanation on how the Arabic script was modified for the Wolof language.

 

It has been noted that some of the oldest African Ajami texts kept in some European libraries are mislabeled as arabe indéchiffrable (“undecipherable Arabic”).[i] Though Ajami has a long tradition in Africa, stretching from Senegambia to the Horn of Africa, it has been largely overlooked in teaching and research about the region, partly because Ajami texts are difficult to decipher by outsiders. Like other Ajami users around the world, Wolof Ajami writers enriched the 28 Arabic letters with diacritical dots (Wolof: tomb). These diacritical dots can be placed below or above Arabic letters or below or above Arabic vowel diacritics, as reflected in the excerpt below.[ii]

Exerpt 1: Wolof Ajami text

 

  Manuscript page

Romanized transcription

Bismi llāhi al-raḥmāni al-raḥimi

Wa ṣalla llāhu ʿalā sayyidinā

Muḥammadin wa sallama taslīman.

  1. Mboolem Muriid yi degluleen ma yee leen
  2. Ci mbiri Shaykh Anta buleen nelaw yeen.
  3. Li may nelaw-nelaw du tee ma yeete.
  4. Li may gëlëm-gëlëm du tee ma woote.
  5. Amaana kuy nelaw-nelawlu ngir réer.
  6. Waaye bu dee fee yeete doolul yandoor.

 English translation

In the Name of God, The Merciful, The Beneficent.

May blessing and Peace be upon our Master Muḥammad

                        ---o----

Fellow Murid disciples, listen to be awakened

about Shaykh Anta. Do not sleep

No matter how asleep I am, I will wake you up

No matter how confused I am, I will call upon you

Perhaps, some pretend to be asleep because they are confused

But when awakened, they will snore no more.

 

Decrypting Wolof Consonants

The Wolof language has 43 consonants (including geminates). The following eleven consonants do not exist in Arabic: p, mp, mb, c, ñ, nc, nj, and ŋ, g, ng, and nd. Thus, to render them in writing, Ajami users had to modify Arabic letters that represents Arabic sounds closer to them with diacritical dots. An orthographic rule is applied to the following natural classes: bilabial, palatal, velar, and prenasal-alveolar consonants. The bilabial consonants (p and the prenasal mp, and mb) are written with the Arabic (ب, b) with three dots placed above or below. Verse 1 and 2 show examples of mb written with the dots above and below the . Similarly, the palatal consonants (c, ñ, nc, and nj) are rendered with a jīm (ج, j) with three dots above or below. An example of c (in ci, the proposition at, in, on) written with a jīm with three dots below is shown at the beginning of verse 2. On occasions, the dots are omitted inadvertently.

The velar consonants ŋ, g, and ng are generally written with the Arabic kāf (ک, k) with three dots above or below. An example of g is in verses 1 and 4. The prenasal-alveolar nd forms its own class and is commonly written with the dāl (د, d) with three dots above or below. Verse 6 contains an example of nd written with dāl with the three dots above. While in Romanized texts, the vowel diacritic that typically follows geminates and prenasals in Ajami texts is not represented, in Ajami texts it reflects an articulatory phonetic feature. It refers to the consonantal release at the end of words with geminates or prenasals. Finally, the sukūn (o placed above a consonant) functions in Ajami texts as it does in Arabic materials. It is used to indicate absence of vowel after a consonant.

Decrypting Wolof Vowels

Three diacritics are used to write the three vowels of the Arabic language: i (kasra, a line below the letter), a (fatḥā, a line above the letter), and u (ḍamma, a superscript د above the letter). Similar to the consonants, Ajami users deploy innovative techniques to represent the vowels of their languages that do not exist in Arabic. For example, Wolof has the following eight vowels: i, e, é, ë, a, o, ó, and u. Five of them (e, é, ë, o, and ó) do not exist in Arabic. As in the case of the consonants, an orthographic rule applies to natural classes to write Wolof vowels that do not exist in Arabic. The classes include: front, central, and back vowels.

The front vowels i, e, and é are typically written with kasra, imāla (a dot below the letter) or their combination, as illustrated in verses 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. The back vowels o, ó, and u are written with ḍamma as seen in verses of the excerpt. In some Wolof Ajami texts, o and ó are further differentiated from u and are written with a ḍamma with a small dot inside.  With respect to the class of central vowels which includes ë and a, both vowels are generally written with the fatḥa, as shown throughout the excerpt.

Additionally, when a word begins with a vowel, there are several possibilities to write the vowel. Because the fatḥa, kasra, and ḍamma diacritics used to write respectively the vowels a, i, and u in Arabic cannot stand alone, the alif (ا) is commonly used as a supporting letter in Wolof Ajami materials. The consonants ḥā (ح, ), (ه, h), and cayn (ع, c) can also serve as supporting letters at word-initial position in Wolof Ajami writing. The vowel a in the word amaana (perhaps), the first word of verse 5, is written with a fatḥa placed on a supporting ḥā.

Additionally, the ḥā (ح, ) and (ه, h) have other orthographic functions in Wolof Ajami writing. They can both occur at the end of words. When these two letters (ح and ه) are used at word-final positions in Wolof Ajami texts, they reflect an articulatory phonetic feature: the uninterrupted airflow of final vowels. The hā (ه) can also indicate a dialectal trait in Wolof Ajami. In such cases, hā (ه) indicates a dialectal feature of the rural Bawol-Bawol Wolof variety spoken in the heartland of the Murid areas where h is pronounced before nouns beginning with a vowel, in contrast to urban varieties where it is dropped.

Decrypting the Segmentation System

The segmentation system that Wolof Ajami practitioners utilize to break their words and phrases also differs in some respect from the one commonly used in the standard Latin script texts. The phrases with multiple elements in the Romanized excerpt form single units in the Ajami excerpt. The first phrase in the box in verse 1, ma yee leen (I wake you up), consists of the subject pronoun ma (I), the verb yee (to wake up), and the object pronoun leen (them). The second phrase in the box in verse 2, ci mbiri (about/concerning the business of), consists of the preposition ci (at, in, on), mbir (business/affair), and the plural genitive morpheme –i. The two phrases in the boxes in verses 3 and 4, ma yeete (I wake up people) and ma woote (I call upon people), consists of the subject pronoun ma (I) and the verbs yeete (to wake up people) and woote (to call upon people). While the elements of the structures are isolated in the standard Roman transcription, they are agglutinated in the Ajami excerpt.

Though deciphering Ajami texts is clearly not easy, the benefits are immense. Deciphering such Ajami texts opens up new doors into important written sources of African knowledge that have hitherto eluded most Arabophone and Europhone scholars. Ajami sources are old and extensive and they complement the (1) Arabic, (2) Europhone, (3) indigenous written, and (4) oral traditions of Africa that constitute the “African Library.” Ajami sources equally deal with both religious and secular matters, including arts.[iii]

Colourful painting of calligraphy

Bàyyi fen moo gën jàng al-Quraan ak xam-xam te jëfe ko [to stop lying is better than studying the Qurʾān and knowledge [of Islamic sciences] and living by it], a maxim in Ajami calligraphy emphasizing the primacy of ethical excellence over ritual practice in the Muridiyya Sufi order of Senegal. Courtesy of Yelimane Fall, Murid calligrapher.

[i] Mamadou Cissé, “Écrits et Écriture en Afrique de l’Ouest,” Revue Electronique Internationale des Sciences du Language 6 (2007): 84.

[ii] Source: Ka, Muusaa. Nàttoo di Kerkeraani Awliyā-i, copied by Muhammadu Amiin Saaw. Tuubaa, Senegal, 1989. For a recited version by Mama Njaay.

[iii] For more on the information in Ajami materials in general and the Wolof tradition in particular, see: Murid Ajami sources of knowledge: the myth and the reality ; and EAP334.

07 January 2016

Freetown and the transatlantic slave trade

EAP has funded three projects at the Sierra Leone Public Archives (EAP284, EAP443, EAP782) and we are lucky to have a joint blog post written by the grant holders of these projects; Professor Paul Lovejoy (York University) and Professor Suzanne Schwarz (University of Worcester).

Over the past five years, several British Library Endangered Archives projects have focused on preserving documents in the Sierra Leone Public Archives at Freetown which are of enormous importance for an understanding of the transatlantic slave trade and the African diaspora. A long-running programme of digitisation has contributed to the preservation of rare and invaluable sources which are perishing in woefully deficient storage conditions characterised by extremely high humidity. The oldest document held in Freetown is a treaty dated 1788, in which British officials claimed that the land on which the original settlement was built had been granted to ‘the said ffree community to be theirs, their Heirs and successors for ever...’. The treaty, now encased in Perspex, recorded how the land had been secured for a bundle of goods including a ‘Crimson Sattin Embroidered waistcoat, a Lead Coloured Sattin Coat, a Waistcoat and Breeches, a mock Diamond Ring, two pair of Pistols, one Tellascope, Two pair of Gold Ear Rings with Necklasses...’.

  Page of writing.
EAP284/4/1: Treaty from 1788

Among the most important sources held in the Public Archives is a long series of Registers of Liberated Africans (c. 1808-1848), which document the African names and physical characteristics of tens of thousands of Africans, labelled 'recaptives,' released at Freetown from illegal slave-ships by Royal Navy patrols in the aftermath of British abolition of the slave trade. These registers include rare biographical information on the African names and physical appearance of individuals released from slaving voyages originating from all the main provenance zones of the Atlantic slave trade from Senegambia to West-Central Africa.

Page from a register.EAP284/1/1: "Liberated African Department; Register 1814-1815; Nos 4,684 - 7,507"

EAP443_1_17_20_Pt_2-eap443_liberated_african_register_1808_1812_425_LEAP443/1/17/6 Pt 2: Liberated African Department; Register 8529 - 9758 [1816-1817]

As such, the evidence documents the characteristics of Africans who were part of the forced intercontinental migration by sea in the first half of the nineteenth century. Importantly, a number of the registers and letter books from the Liberated African Department include information which makes it possible to reconstruct the subsequent life histories of individuals following their disembarkation at Freetown. This includes details of the enlistment of men and boys in the Royal Navy and Royal African Corps, as well as the ‘disposal’ of men, women and children as apprentices in the colony for periods of up to fourteen years. The role of colonial officials in the dispersion of recaptive children to settlers was modelled to some extent on the example of parish officials in distributing pauper and orphan children in England to reduce the immediate and long-term burden on the rates during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. As such, the ‘disposal’ of Liberated Africans in Sierra Leone emerged as an important test case in the development of prototype systems of apprenticeship for the management of peoples uprooted and displaced by the transatlantic slave trade. This test case had wider ramifications, as principles and systems developed in Freetown were subsequently applied to other national jurisdictions for recaptive Africans in South Africa, Cuba and Brazil as well as in the British colonies of the West Indies and elsewhere following the emancipation of the enslaved population after 1834.

Page of writing.EAP284/1/2: Liberated African Department; Letterbook; 1820-1826; Vol. 1

Letter books in the Liberated African series also record the distribution of 'recaptives' to colony villages, including the settlement of Wilberforce outside Freetown, and their patterns of employment, education and accommodation. The correspondence of colonial governors and letter books that record exchanges with local citizens, missionaries, and merchants have also been digitised.

Page from a register.EAP443/1/3/2: Births; District Freetown [13 Apr 1857-12 Apr 1860]

Series of birth and death registers for Freetown and outlying districts provide evidence that charts the composition of the colony’s population in the second half of the nineteenth century. Subsequent phases of digitisation in the British Library Endangered Archives Programme will include police and court records from the nineteenth century, which include testimonies by Liberated Africans and their descendants. Other materials include Arabic letterbooks involving correspondence with indigenous rulers and officials in the interior of the Colony, records of fugitives who escaped slavery from the hinterland, and registers of children whose status in the Colony was sometimes uncertain, if not dubious.

These projects have received additional support from the University of Worcester and the Harriet Tubman Institute for Research on Africa and its Diasporas at York University, Canada.

24 July 2014

Tangut Manuscripts from St Petersburg

We have another wonderful guest blog, this time by Sam Van Schaik, International Dunhuang Project Research and HE Manager. Sam is also based at the British Library and sits just along the corridor from EAP. His blog is all about the historical context for EAP140 material.

 

The Tangut kingdom is one of the great lost civilisations of Asia. The kingdom, also known as Westen Xia, came to prominence in the 11th century and flourished until the early 13th century, when it was crushed by the armies of Genghis Khan. In that brief span, the Tanguts invented a new script, translated thousands of texts into their language, and pioneered the use of print technology, including moveable type.

Stupas at the northwest corner of Kharakhoto
Stupas at the northwest corner of Kharakhoto, taken in October 2008. (c) International Dunhuang Project.

Until the beginning of the 20th century the Tanguts were only known through a few scattered references in historical texts. That changed with the excavation of the ancient ruined city of Kharakhoto by the Russian explorer Pyotr Kuzmich Kozlov (1863-1935). During two visits to the site in 1908 and 1909, Kozlov discovered thousands of ancient manuscripts in Chinese, Tibetan, and an unknown language that would later be identified as Tangut. Along with other artefacts, including beautiful paintings on silk, Kozlov’s discoveries were taken back to St Petersburg, and are now housed in the Hermitage and the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

There are over eight thousand Tangut manuscripts and block printed books from Kharakhoto in the St Petersburg collection. Most of these are Buddhist texts, found when Kozlov was excavating a stupa (a Buddhist reliquary), dating from the 12th and early 13th centuries. The Tangut state was located between China and Tibet, and was influenced equally by these two great Buddhist cultures. Thus the manuscripts contain texts from China, including the literature of the Chan and Huayan schools, and from Tibet, mainly tantric Buddhist practices from India that had only recently arrived in Tibet.

It is a testament to the commitment of the Tangut emperors to Buddhism that the whole of the canon of Buddhist sutras (scriptures recording the words of the Buddha) were translated into Tangut by the 12th century. As we see from the Kharakhoto collections, many of these sutras were copied by hand and printed in expensive editions on fine paper. The Tibetan tantric texts were translated in the late 12th and early 13th centuries due to the increasing influence of Tibetan Buddhists at the Tangut court.

A copy of the Mahāprajñāpāramitā sūtra in concertina forma
A copy of the Mahāprajñāpāramitā sūtra in concertina format. Tang.334/201 EAP140/1/35

A project under the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP140) has now digitized a significant portion of the Tangut manuscript collections at the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts, St Petersburg. These are manuscripts of the Mahāprajñāpāramitā sūtra, "The Great Sutra of the Perfection of Wisdom", the most numerous single text in the collection. Just like in Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism, this massive text was copied extensively for the religious merit thought to accrue from copying scripture.

These copies of the Mahāprajñāpāramitā sūtra are now available on the EAP website and will also be made available on the websites of the International Dunhuang Project. The high-quality colour images of these manuscripts make it possible to appreciate the variety of writing styles and book formats used in the Tangut kingdom. Book forms include concertina manuscripts like the one pictured above, and scrolls (see below).

A scroll with a blue cloth cover
A scroll with a blue cloth cover. Tang.335/2.

The technology of woodblock printing was being used in China and Central Asia from the 7th century, and the production of both printed books and manuscripts continued in the following centuries. Though printing was a well-established technique in the Tangut kingdom, the great majority of these copies of the Mahāprajñāpāramitā sūtra were written by hand. Many of the manuscripts also have a block-printed frontispiece showing a scene of the Buddha teaching, an interesting combination of print and manuscript technologies. The fact that the same print is attached to many of the manuscripts suggests that they were produced around the same time. The Buddhist dynasties of China and Tibet sponsored major projects of copying the Perfection of Wisdom sutras, and it is likely that the Tangut emperors wanted to show that they could do the same.

A block-printed illustration, the frontispiece to a Mahāprajñāpāramitā sūtra
A block-printed illustration, the frontispiece to a Mahāprajñāpāramitā sūtra. Tang.334/204  EAP140/1/38

20 June 2014

Book heritage of Ural Old Believers

 
We are very lucky to have another guest blog, this time Dr Irina Pochinskaya who was the grant-holder for EAP556 will talk about the fascinating items that makes up part of the collection for this project.

A group photograph of the team.
Staff of the Laboratory: Sitting left to right: P. Mangilev, I. Pochinskaya (head of the Laboratory), N. Anufrieva, N. Shcherbakova. Standing left to right: S. Beloborodov, Iu. Borovik, A. Palkin.

The museum, including a spinning wheel, traditional dress and several manuscripts behind glass.
Teaching exhibition at the Laboratory.

The Collection of manuscripts and old-printed books at the Laboratory of Studies in Archaeography of the Ural Federal University, Yekaterinburg, Russia, consists of almost 6000 biblio artifacts of the Ancient Russian tradition and has its roots in Byzantine culture.

A collection of manuscripts some open to show illustrations.
The books of the Laboratory collection.

In Russia this tradition is kept and developed by Old-Believers, representatives of a social-religious movement, which appeared as a result of the 17th century split of the Russian Church.

There are 3876 manuscript items in the Laboratory. 19 items are dated to the 15th – 16th centuries. A particularly interesting manuscript from this date is a Gospel (1530s), it contains a signature by the Archbishop of Novgord, Macariy (who later became the Archbishop of metropolitan Moscow and then of all of Russia) and is dated 8 November 1540. Another rare manuscript is a Service to the Icon of Vladimir Mother of God (early 16th century).

Example of pages from a manuscript.
Service to Vladimir Icon of Mother of God, early 16th century.

There are a large number of “sborniki” (collections) of different works and church services within the 17th century books. This includes an entire row of unique manuscripts such as the Chronograph (a 1617 edition and a manuscript dated to the 1620s) and “Ustav” (Order) of Cyrillo-Belozersky monastery, one of the largest in Russia.

Works of N.G. Spafariy, a well-known 17th century writer and diplomat, were widely known throughout the Urals and Siberia and the Laboratory has a collection of Spafariy’s works and translations. Of particular importance is “Titulyarnik” – a handbook for diplomats written in 1672. Our example was made in the 1680s.

  Example from a manuscript
Titulyarnik. Manuscript, 1680s.

A significant proportion of the 17th century biblio artifacts are manuscripts containing spiritual chants. Melodies in these books were written with special signs known as “kryuki” (hooks) which came to Russia from Byzantium.

There are many books in the 18th century manuscript collection. They are thematic compilations of extracts from the Holy Scripture and are eschatological, educational and hagiographical in nature. There are also works of the Church Fathers and original Old-Believers. There are also unique manuscripts, such as the Cosmography (1750s-1760s), which is a historical-geographical essay containing descriptions of countries from all the continents and of course a very detailed description of places in Russia. The description is so comprehensive that we can almost guess the author and the sources he used.

Single page from a manuscript
Cosmography. Manuscript 1750s-1760s.

An illuminated manuscript of the 1770s deserve special mention. It contains extracts from the book “Prolog”  which illustrates the suffering and torture of saints, making it an anthology of Medieval torture.

A manuscript illustration depicting two men whipping a saint (an angel witnesses the scene).
The collection of extracts from Prolog Manuscript, 1770s.

There are many collections of 18th-20th century services, prayers and canons that were necessary for domestic rituals and services.

Illuminated page of music notation.
Oktoikh. Manuscript, late 19th century.

During this time, the number of original Old-Believers’ works increased, including essays on the history of the movement. There is a row of 20th century personal archives from leaders of Old-Believers community. Therefore the collection of 19th-20th centuries material gives us a rich resource for studying the history of local Old-Believers and their contemporary condition.

There are 67 old-printed books from the 16th century. Among these are the first books printed in Moscow: The Lenten Triodion (c.1555-1556) and the Gospel (c.1558-59). They have no publisher’s imprint, so the creators remain anonymous.

An opened manuscript
Gospel. Moscow, Anonymous typography, 1550s.

There is also the first accurately dated Russian old-printed book – The Apostle dated to 1564 (2 items). The collection also holds the first books published in Ukrainian and Belarussian typographies.

The 17th century books consist mainly of books published before the Church Reform of the 1650s-1660s which divided  the Russian Orthodox Church creating the oppositional Old-Believers’ movement. There are also Ukrainian and Belarussian publications, which were in demand amongst the Old-Believers.

Beautifully designed book cover
Gospel. Nizhniy Novgorod, 1613.

The book collection of  the 18th-20th centuries mainly consists of books published by Old-Believers. During the 18th to early 20th centuries Old-Believers printed books mainly in typographies of the Rzeczpospolita (Commonwealth) in Warsaw, Vilna, Grodno, Pochaev and Suprasl, the books were then illegally exported to Russia. The Old-Believers book publishing from the second half of 19th century to the early 20th century was organized in Russia, but was illegal. In 1905 the government legalized it.

The Laboratory staff actively studies biblio artifacts. You can see the list of their works on the website of the Laboratory.

Due to the Endangered Archives Programme of the British Library (project EAP556 “Book heritage of Ural Old-Believers”) digitisation of the most valuable biblio artifacts at the Laboratory started. The purchase of acid-free book boxes was also carried out under the grant.

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